PSNI investigating alleged major police data breach
Information on hundreds reported to have fallen into hands of loyalist paramilitaries
The information was unintentionally given to loyalists who are being investigated by the PSNI’s paramilitary crime task force. File Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The PSNI is investigating a report that a police data breach has resulted in information on hundreds of private citizens ending up in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries.
The Irish News reported on Friday that personal data from hundreds of people appeared to have been inadvertently passed onto suspected loyalist paramilitaries by the PSNI.
The information was unintentionally given to loyalists who are being investigated by the PSNI’s paramilitary crime task force, according to the newspaper.
It reported that police were understood to have examined a number of computer devices seized from loyalists but that in returning one of them police had left a pen drive in the computer containing the private data, and that it was accessed by loyalists.
The Irish News reported that it had seen some of the data, but was not in possession of it and would not be making it public.
The newspaper quoted a loyalist source linking the alleged breach to the IRA break-in at Castlereagh police station in 2002 when highly sensitive files on officers and their agents were stolen.
The source told the paper: “The IRA had to go to the trouble of breaking into Castlereagh, we’ve been handed this information without having to leave the house.”
On Friday, PSNI assistant chief constable Barbara Gray confirmed police were investigating the matter while adding police themselves were not so far aware of any data breach.
“We take these allegations extremely seriously and have now commenced an investigation into the contents of today’s newspaper article. To date it remains the case that PSNI has not been made aware of any data loss through our internal reporting mechanisms,” said Ms Graham.
“We are seeking to validate the contents of the article and establish if PSNI is indeed the data owner. We appeal to anyone who may have knowledge or possession of the alleged pen drive to contact police,” she added.
A spokeswoman for the British information commissioner said “organisations have a legal duty to ensure the security of any personal data they hold”.
“We have been made aware of an incident reported in the media this morning and are making enquiries,” she added.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Linda Dillon called for “answers and reassurance” for those affected by the reported security breach.
“The scale and nature of this breach is shocking and will cause huge concern to those affected,” said Ms Dillon who added that she was seeking a meeting with PSNI chief constable George Hamilton on the issue.
The SDLP policing spokeswoman Dolores Kelly MLA who said she was seeking a meeting with assistant chief constable Ms Gray described the allegation as “extremely alarming”.
“The SDLP now await a more fulsome statement from the PSNI to allay public fears and to clarify their action plan to get to the bottom of this potential security breach,” said Ms Kelly.